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Player Watch: Inside Padraig Walsh's superb performance at midfield against Tipperary

We take a closer look at Walsh’s impact yesterday during Kilkenny’s Division 1A victory in Semple Stadium.

WITH 90 SECONDS of stoppage-time remaining in yesterday’s Kilkenny-Tipperary clash, the Premier were 0-17 to 0-16 in front and on the verge of victory over their rivals.

Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy launched a booming puck-out just beyond the opposition 45 as they chased a late equaliser. Seven bodies were in close proximity to him, but Padraig Walsh rose highest to fetch the delivery.

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As he fell to his knees, he managed to get his hand-pass off to Richie Hogan, who was waiting behind in a pocket of space.

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Over his shoulder, Hogan slotted it between the posts to level the game up. From the next puck-out, Tipperary were penalised for fouling the ball and Murphy hit the winning score to hand the Cats their second win of the campaign.

Walsh’s role in Hogan’s levelling score underlined how dangerous he can be in the attacking half of the field. After featuring at wing-back against Clare (as a sub) and Limerick, Walsh was stationed at midfield by Brian Cody in Thurles and thrived in the position. 

Having spent most of 2018 at full-back, an early-season injury to Walsh gave Cody the chance to experiment with the number three position. Huw Lawlor lined out on the edge of the square for the opening two league games and Conor Delaney took the jersey over the past couple of weekends.

Conor Delaney dejected Kilkenny full-back Conor Delaney. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Judging by his man-of-the-match performance on Seamus Callanan yesterday, the full-back role is Delaney’s to lose. A knock-on effect of Delaney’s form has meant that Walsh can be employed in the middle third where he can have a greater impact on the game. 

His presence at centre-field played a major role in the Kilkenny’s one-point victory on Sunday. Walsh scored two points and if his shooting had been a little better, he’d have finished the game with four or five points. He sent three shots at the posts wide.

His pace and speed of thought around the middle sector saw him have four shots from his six possessions in the opening-half. Walsh has a good awareness of the space around him and when he did pick up the ball around his defence, he was able to release a team-mate with an accurate hand-pass. 

He’s not afraid of the hard work either. He was involved in three rucks and came out with possession in two of them. He was targetted by Murphy for three puck-outs, winning with the ball on each occasion.  

His second point arrived directly from a Murphy restart following a Tipperary score. Walsh won the breaking ball and burned Willie Connors for pace before firing over the bar. 

Walsh

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It was one of four solo runs Walsh embarked on at the Tipperary defence during the 70 minutes.

As Kilkenny continue to evolve with a shorter gameplan that sees them work the ball through the lines, Walsh’s direct running style fits neatly into their system. 

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Defensively, Walsh performed very well. He made three tackles and completely took his direct opponent Connors out of the game. The Tipperary midfielder had only a couple of possessions and was replaced in the 42nd minute by Jake Morris, who was also kept under wraps by Walsh.

When Tipperary attacked, Walsh had the awareness to sit back on his half-back line and protect the spine of the defence during the times centre-back Paddy Deegan needed to put out fires on the flanks.

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When Kilkenny are back at full-strength, Cody’s main half-back options consist of Walsh, Cillian Buckley and Joey Holden, in addition to Paddy Deegan, Enda Morrissey and Robert Lennon.

James Maher and Conor Fogarty may remain his first-choice midfield partnership, but Walsh has emerged as a good option in the middle. Fogarty’s fine performance yesterday at wing-back means he’s an option in defence if Cody wants to switch Walsh to midfield.

With the Leinster round-robin campaign looming in the summer, the more options the Cats boss has around the field the better. And as Walsh showcased on Sunday, he has it in his locker to become a big player for the Cats in the engine room if required.

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Kevin O'Brien

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